With the two 'I's – Iraq and immigration – the bellwether issues, next month's congressional elections are shaping up as a watershed event for both a number of Hispanic candidates and for Hispanic voters in key districts.
"I've never seen it this well for Democrats," says Rep. Hilda Solís (D-CA), who is part of a Democratic Party recruitment team that campaigns for candidates and helps raise money. "People are more motivated to vote this year than any other time I've seen and it's because they think what is happening in Iraq is ridiculous. They don't like it and they want it to stop, and they see that Congress is not doing anything on immigration."
Adds House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): "We're prepared to win. We're ready to govern and to do it in a respectful, bipartisan way. From the war in Iraq, to skyrocketing gas prices and a soaring federal deficit, it's clear our nation needs a new direction. American voters are prepared to send our country in that direction by voting for Democrats."
Naturally, Republicans disagree, saying that Hispanics, like any other group, do not necessarily vote on just one issue. "Republicans and Latinos have many concerns in common. It is a challenging national environment, (but) we are confident that our local strategy of building each race from the ground up will allow us to bring back the majority in the next Congress," says Alejandro Burgos of the National Republican Campaign Committee.
But analysts say those two 'I's could change the scenery to the benefit of Democrats who, as the party not in the White House, traditionally do well in the midterm elections.
For starters, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives, is spending more than $50 million for television and radio ads leading up to the November 7 elections, targeting races where Republican incumbents are considered vulnerable. The expenditures include $2.1 million for ads targeting Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), who is in a race labeled "too close to call" against state Attorney General Patricia Madrid, a Democrat. If elected, Ms. Madrid would be the first female Hispanic to represent New Mexico in Congress. The state has not had a Hispanic federal legislator since Bill Richardson – now the state's high-profile governor – left to join the Clinton administration.
Republicans are also spending lots on the Wilson race (and others around the country). That Ms. Madrid, who has never run for Congress, is giving a three-term incumbent a run for her money is "quite an accomplishment," says Magdaleno Manzanárez, political science professor at Western New Mexico University.
"One of the hardest political races to do is run against someone who has already been in office for some time, but Madrid has managed to do that and more. She has raised a lot of money and has gained a lot of attention and support."
The left-leaning Web site Daily Kos says that Ms. Madrid is "poised for a pickup" and "may have been the single best recruitment coup for the DCCC this cycle," while the polling firm Lake Research Partners puts the race in a virtual dead-heat.
The Wilson/Madrid match is on the radar screens of other partisans, including Moveon.org. That liberal political action committee has sponsored ads on the sides of buses that run near Congress and the K Street lobbying corridor in the nation's capital, attacking certain members of Congress for their support of President Bush. One ad targets Ms. Wilson, an Air Force veteran, for not only supporting President Bush but also taking large amounts of money from the oil industry.
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